On came Cummins to steal the show, again

Cummins picked ten in the match
Cummins picked ten in the match ©AFP

Shan Masood had found his flow. Babar Azam had found his feet. Pakistan had found some belief. Then on came Pat Cummins.

The partnership between the two senior batters had grown to 61. The scoring rate for the visitors in their run-chase had sailed past 4-an-over. The momentum had gradually begun to shift towards Pakistan. Then on came Pat Cummins.

It took him all of three deliveries to shake you back into your senses. It took him all of three deliveries to remind you of the improbability of the task ahead. It took him all of three deliveries to re-establish the ascendancy for Australia, as if it was in threat to start with.

That's what he does though. For such a nice fellow, Pat Cummins is after all the ultimate grinch when it comes to those who dare to dream against his team on the cricket field. Regardless of whether you are the opposition hoping to pull off a heist or a neutral hoping quietly for a thriller. Not because he's bad. But because he's simply that good, if not the best. And he's also got a heart that's two sizes too big, especially when he's got a ball in his hand.

So much so that as he brought himself back into the attack and stood at the top of his mark, you couldn't help but go, "Oh here comes Cummins. We all know how this script plays out now," on the radio. For, there was an unmistakable sense of inevitability to it. There always is with Cummins.

Probably Masood knew it as well. And you could sense the resignation in the way the Pakistan captain threw his head back after Cummins had got the ball to straighten from around the wicket to catch the left-hander's outside edge. Masood wasn't the only one who knew it was coming. He simply was the one who had to wear the brunt of it.

The dream wasn't over it but it surely had been dented.

A few hours later, Pakistan dared to dream again. For the second time on the fourth day of the second Test. So did the smattering of cricket romantics, tragics even, at the MCG. This time it was a partnership between Mohammad Rizwan and Agha Salman Ali. Rizwan had found his flow. Salman had found his feet on Australian soil. Pakistan had found some belief again. Then on came Pat Cummins.

The partnership between the two adventurous right-handers had grown to 57. The scoring rate for the visitors had picked up too. The run-chase seemed to be on track again. Then on came Pat Cummins.

At least this time, to Pakistan's credit, it took him 10 deliveries to shake us all back into our senses. And yes, there will be a lot said about the Rizwan dismissal over the next few days, especially with team director Mohammad Hafeez having been very candid about his team's take on it. Whichever side of the debate you sit on, the fact remains that there was once more the sense of inevitability to Cummins eventually getting Rizwan out in the spell, especially with the way he'd set the wicket-keeper up with his short of length attack. It would take a further 18 deliveries in the spell for Cummins to once and for all put an end to the dream of a miraculous Pakistan comeback. Not to forget take his 250th Test wicket and then finish with his second five-wicket haul of the match, taking his total tally to 10, the first Australian Test captain to do so since Allan Border. In addition to convincing the umpires that they didn't have to worry about taking the match into Day 5, and that taking the extra half hour was worth it. As it proved to be, with Australia sealing the series win in only 8 days of action.

Cummins didn't do it alone though. Like always there was the assist from his long-time trusted allies. Josh Hazlewood is a grinch in his own right, the one who makes batting such a joyless exercise if you're in the opposition. Ask any batter who's had the arduous challenge of having to score against the New South Welshman.

Even if you are Babar Azam. Even if you are Babar Azam feeling good about yourself. Even if you are Babar Azam batting as well as you have in quite a while, as he was on Friday (December 29). Coming in after the lunch break, Hazlewood bowled 24 consecutive dot deliveries, nearly half of which Babar had to contend with. Before inevitably, again, being forced to make an error big enough for the ball to sneak through his defences and have his stumps rattled for a second time in the Test. Even if Rizwan and Salman did conjure up some glimmer of hope later, this was the moment that more or less heralded the end of days as far as Pakistan's dream was concerned, on a day that ended a red-letter year for this Australian cricket team.

It was a year where Cummins and his players played grinch a few times, especially away from home. Most memorably, the famous win in Edgbaston, where Cummins led the way with bat in hand for a change, as part of retaining the Ashes against the onslaught of the Bazball revolution. And of course, the two World Championship finals, both against India. The 50-over World Cup version in particular, where they broke a billion hearts in front of nearly a 100,000 Indians in Ahmedabad. On that famous afternoon too, when the stage seemed set and stacked for Rohit Sharma's men to fulfil their destiny, it was Cummins who shut them up, with the ball and also as captain as he did repeatedly in what he's already referred to as the "highlight year" of his career.

Pat Cummins the grinch who always steals the show. Not because he's bad but because he's simply that good, maybe even the best.



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